The Known Unkown

Why it’s so hard to paint a quantitative picture of Irish media

There are many ways to describe and understand a national media market but at a minimum it should include consumption and revenue data. One might be forgiven for thinking that such data is readily available with regard to the Irish market. News reports will routinely cite sources such as PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media reports or Core Media’s annual Outlook documents. has long offered a round-up of consumption data relating to broadcast and print media consumption.

The first thing to emphasize is that audience data is routinely collected and collated for Irish media. Given the commercial nature of virtually all Irish media (including public service media), it has to be. To understand the value of their adspend, advertisers and sponsors must know both how many people are consuming their ads and the nature of their consumers.

Legacy vs. Online Media

In this regard, the ability of online media to build detailed pictures of individual consumers allowing advertisers to target their ads at specific groups of consumers has transformed the advertising industry, somewhat to the detriment of legacy media. A print newspaper may know how many copies they sell, be able to estimate how many people actually read those copies and offer some sense of the nature of that readership (by age, social class, geographical location etc.). But unlike online media via cookies, traditional media cannot obtain the fine grain descriptions of individual members of media audiences describing their personal preferences, orientations and spending patterns. In this regard even if the shift from print to digital within the newspapers sector has come with considerable – sometimes existential – growing pains, it at least allows newspapers to promise similarly targeted delivery of advertising.

Some data exists

  • TAM Ireland collects television (linear and streaming) consumption data and advertising revenues.
  • Ipsos MRBI collates radio consumption and, since 2021, Radio Centre Ireland, a joint venture of RTE and the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland, has collected and published detailed information on commercial radio revenues. These are complemented by information regarding the distribution of the broadcast licence fee in the annual reports of RTE and Coimisiun na Mean’s allocation of funding via their Sound and Vision Fund.
  • Historically, the Audit Bureau of Circulation, first established by the Society of British Advertisers in 1931, has published print circulation data for Irish national and local newspapers. More recently, with the across-the-board decline in print sales and the move to online consumption of newspaper content, new metrics (unique visitor numbers, page impressions) have become critical to understanding newspaper audiences.
  • The Reuters Digital News Report has collated data on online news consumption since 2017 and the Internet Advertising Bureau collects data on online advertising expenditure, a sector which now comfortably exceeds the combined value of broadcast, print, cinema and out of home (think billboards and buses).

Shortcomings of existing data

However, that the data is collected does not mean that it is made public.
Channel share of linear television is available via TAM Ireland but we do not have access to reliable subscriber numbers for the increasingly significant streaming sector. How many Irish homes subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney +? We just don’t know. TAM Ireland releases figures on the value of the overall television advertising market but these tend to be delayed.  In February 2024, the last full set of figures available relate to 2021. Even with that data we don’t necessarily have a strong sense of the share of revenues enjoyed by individual stations (see below).

For radio, especially since the advent of Radio Centre Ireland (RCI), the data situation is much better. Ipsos MRBI have long published detailed audience market share by station and RCI breaks down the total value of spot advertising, branded content (sponsorship) and digital audio by direct and agency sources. However, even in radio, this doesn’t permit us to understand the financial performance of individual radio stations or groups like Bauer Media and Wireless.

Print has become something of a black hole in terms of public access to data. From 2018 onwards, the major print groups began to disengage from the Audit Bureau of Circulation. It appears that the titles of Reach PLC (Irish Mirror, Irish Daily Star), News Ireland (Irish Sun, Sunday Times Ireland) and DMG Media Group Ireland (Irish Daily Mail) are still audited but those of Mediahuis (Irish Independent, Sunday World) and the Irish Times Designated Activity Company (Irish Times and Irish Examiner) are not. This makes it impossible to know the extent of the national daily and Sunday print market. We do have data on the print readership of these titles (via TGI) but this does not extend to their digital readership. 2023 figures from Kantar suggest that 2.67 million people read papers online in Ireland, nearly as many as those accessing them in print form (2.74m). But we do not have a good picture of share (by title) of online newspaper readership. And there is little in the way of consistent figures relating to the value of either print or digital newspaper advertising markets. (Core estimated that the combined value of print and digital advertising in 2022 was €112.8m, PwC suggested it was €149m, nearly a third higher. Such differences make it difficult to know which figures to rely upon.)

And as for internet revenues: IAB Ireland provides headline figures for digital advertising (an estimated €861m in 2022) but we have very little sense of how this is distributed amongst individual outlets. It is generally accepted that Meta and Google account for the lion’s share of this – perhaps as much as 85% - but ironically neither company (along with a host of other social media) participates in the IAB study so their earnings from Irish advertisers have to be extrapolated from a sample of advertiser spending. Audience share of online news is also somewhat opaque: survey data from the Reuters News Report tells us what percentage of respondents accessed a particular news site in the previous week but offers relatively little about the extent and nature of that engagement: a 60 second visit on one site is treated as equivalent to three hours on another.

Workarounds... don't really work

The mixed quality of the data available matters because it complicates any attempt to measure influence and market power, key metrics in thinking about media pluralism and diversity. Even in those media sectors where we do have a sense of audience share – radio and television – we are forced to rely on educated guesswork to arrive at some sense of the share of revenues enjoyed by individual companies within specific sectors.

The obvious solution to this would be to examine the accounts of key players. This requires painstaking work and a generous budget. There are no legal obligations for companies to make their annual reports and financial statements publicly available online. Nonetheless, some companies do publish those numbers voluntarily online. The Companies Act requires virtually every company operating in Ireland to file annual accounts. But the Companies Records Office charges for access to this material and this becomes expensive given that Irish media markets are constituted by literally 100s of companies. Furthermore, under Irish company law, smaller companies (those falling under a particular level of turnover) are not required to include revenue statements in their annual filings, a key omission if one is seeking to arrive at some sense of market share.

The issue is further complicated by the cross-media nature of some leading Irish media companies. The Irish Times Designated Activity Company publishes its annual accounts via the paper’s website. However, the revenues of the company are not only derived from its newspaper activities but also two radio stations and subsidiaries such as The contributions of the various elements to the overall revenues of the Irish Times Designated Activity Company are not disaggregated making it impossible to determine how much revenue is derived from newspaper as opposed to broadcast activities. Similarly, the annual report of the Belgian media multinational Mediahuis does disaggregate its Irish revenues (€199m in 2022). However, that figure is constituted not only by revenues from the Irish newspaper business but also from Mediahuis Ireland distribution and logistics subsidiary Reach and its ownership of non-news media websites such as and So we may know the revenues of Mediahuis Ireland but not its newspaper-sector specific revenues.

At least we know Mediahuis Ireland’s revenues. The increasingly international nature of Irish media ownership often disguises the value of Irish media revenues. Reach PLC, News Ireland and DMG Media Ireland are all part of multinational media companies and the revenues from their Irish print subsidiaries are folded into their global revenue streams making it impossible to identify their share of the Irish newspaper market. There are exceptions to this: although a subsidiary of US cable Giant Liberty Global, Virgin Media Television Ireland continues to report their broadcast revenues separately via three Irish registered companies. Similarly, Bauer Media Ireland’s acquisition of Communicorp in 2021 came with the unexpected bonus of aggregating the revenues of the various radio stations owned by the group so that instead of having to track five or six separate companies Bauer’s Irish revenues are now summed and reported in aggregate.

The international dimension of Irish-facing media is at its most acute with regard to online media. More than one third of the top thirty most used digital news brands (as per the Reuters DNR) are based outside Ireland (the BBC, Sky, CNN etc.). We may have some sense of how often they are accessed in Ireland but since Sky, CNN and the New York Times do not report Irish revenues separately we cannot know the value of this in revenue terms.
The online issue is further complicated by the fact that many of the largest online news brands in Ireland – RTE, the Irish Times, Mediahuis – do not declare what elements of their commercial income is sourced from online advertising.

Conclusion: Measuring with a broken yardstick

It is important to stress that there is no implication here that the companies discussed are engaged in any kind of active non-disclosure. To our knowledge they are all meeting their legal obligations regarding their financial disclosures. Nonetheless, the net effect of reporting revenues from different national and media markets in aggregate, in the case of smaller Irish media outlets, not reporting them at all, makes it literally impossible to arrive at a comprehensive picture of audience and market influence. We can say with some confidence who the biggest players are but not the precise extent of their place in the minds and pockets of Irish media audiences.

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